History of Aspen

Aspen, Colorado, is famous for the silver mines that were found in the 1870s in the Roaring Fork Valley. But the Ute Indians lived in the area for nearly 1,000 years before Colorado became a state in 1876. In 1873, the U.S. government commissioned the Hayden Survey to study the land and resources of the Intermountain West. Their reports about silver brought in a flood of prospectors to the area.

The town of Aspen was officially founded in 1879 as a mining town. It was first named "Ute City" after the native population before being quickly renamed "Aspen" in 1880. During the 1880s and 1890s, Aspen produced one-sixth of all U.S. silver and one-sixteenth of the world's silver. By 1891, Aspen was the largest producer of silver in the nation. An Aspen prospector mined one of the largest nuggets of silver in history in 1894, finding a nugget weighing 2,200 pounds. John Wheeler, the half-owner of Macy's Department store, made huge investments into Aspen starting in 1883, helping the community get off the ground with much-needed cash.

Congress demonetized silver in 1893 with the Sherman Silver Act, creating a silver panic and devastating the Aspen community. The population at this time was over 10,000. The city went into a long decline; by 1935, Aspen had a population of only 700. As mining declined, Aspen survived as a supply town for farming and ranching. The most important crop in the town was the potato.

Aspen did not make its comeback until after World War 2 when skiiing became a favorite sport of the American people. Aspen has a plethora of light snow and wild mountains, making it an ideal location for skiing. The Army's 10th Mountain Division trained in Camp Hale right next to Aspen. Soldiers often visited the city for its skiing on their leave time.

Aspen Skiing Corporation was formed in 1946 and its Lift-1 was dubbed the world's longest chairlift. Aspen played host to the 1950 World Alpine Championships for its first international skiing competition. The city golf course opened in 1961, providing another reason for tourists to visit Aspen. The 1960s saw Aspen become a major international resort town where people visited from all over the world. By 1996, it had 4,700 acres of skiable land across four mountains.